Magnatune an Open Choice, iTunes an Expensive Choice

Finally, a company that understands Internet media distribution.

On April 2, 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs along with EMI CEO Eric Nicoli announced DRM-free downloads at a new cost of $1.29 US—a fee that's $.30 more than the current DRM-formatted music. Shouldn't music be DRM-free anyway and not come at an extra cost? That's not what iTunes is saying or showing, as it still is going to sell DRM music for $.99 and DRM-free music for even more. Why put up with these over-priced songs, not only from iTunes but also from other on-line stores, such as Microsoft's MSN Music that sells over-priced music, and like iTunes, the music comes with DRM.

The new DRM-free songs on iTunes will be in MP3 and WMA formats and supposedly will be of “superior quality”. That mention of superior quality, however, is merely to cover up the extra price and save iTunes from the UK's fair trading pressure of infringement on European trading regulations. Why should you have to deal with a company that makes you pay more for freedom? Freedom is not something you should have to pay for. Why pay for freedom when you can choose an on-line site that gives you options the other record-label companies don't offer?

Such a site exists, and it gives you many choices, including how you want to receive an album, such as a downloaded DRM-free format (MP3, WAV, OGG, FLAC or AAC) or a purchased CD that will be mailed to you, all without the extra “freedom fee”. This site also lets you choose to pay what you think a particular album is worth, and it gives you the option of re-downloading a purchased song if you lose it due to a faulty hard drive or misplaced file. This site also gives you the option to back up music on another device, without restrictions on the number of devices on which you can store your music—something iTunes does not allow, and it's something I know I want to be able to do with music I purchase. And, the best thing of all, this site allows you the freedom to share an album and give the gift of music to your friends. If you buy an album, you can share it with up to three friends (based on the honor system).

What if I tell you it's all possible with Magnatune—the company that says “We Are Not Evil”, and it's just that, not evil. Magnatune allows customers to do everything mentioned above—plus more. It's not only an independent, on-line record label, but also a company that wants to change how music is distributed and open up possibilities for less-known bands and artists. The artists and bands on Magnatune are not highly rated with albums or songs in the Top 100, but they still are great to listen to and download. All Magnatune needs is only one top artist to switch over to put it on the map as a mainstream label company. Magnatune takes big strides to label great-sounding artists, and one out of 300 artists gets signed.

What Magnatune Believes

This is straight from Magnatune's site:

  • All music should be shareware. Just as with software, you want to preview, evaluate and pass along good music to others—in the process of buying it.

  • Find a way of getting music from musicians to audiences that's inexpensive and supports musicians. Otherwise, musical diversity will continue to suffer greatly under the current system where only mega-hits make money.

  • Musicians need to be in control and enjoy the process of having their music released. The systematic destruction of musicians' lives is unacceptable: musicians are very close to staging a revolution (and some already have).

  • Creativity needs to be encouraged; today's copyright system of “all rights reserved” is too strict. We support the Creative Commons “some rights reserved” system, which allows derivative works, sampling and no-cost noncommercial use.

Magnatune in the Open Source Community and Becoming a Freedom Fighter for Music and Media

Magnatune recently has taken part in the Linux community, allowing you to search and listen to its podcast and music directories without purchase from the KDE Amarok 1.4.4 player. This try-before-you-buy philosophy gives you the opportunity to listen to not just one song from an album, but the full album, before deciding how much you are willing to pay for it—if you choose to purchase it at all. The great thing with Magnatune's search-and-buy feature being put into the Amarok player is that it allows you to purchase an album from the player instead of going to the site, making it easy to search Magnatune's massive album collection for specific genres, such as Classical, Electronica, Jazz and Blues, Metal and Punk, New Age and Rock. Once your purchase is complete, the song or album can be put into any type of music player, such as an iPod or any other MP3 player. As I said before, Magnatune lets you pay what you think the album is worth. It does have a starting price of $5, with a maximum of $18 (the typical purchasing price for an album is $8). Each song is DRM-Free (at the price of about $.50 a song) and can be downloaded in many formats to work on just about any music player and device. The best part is that 50% of the sale price of each album goes directly to the artist.

Figure 1. The Amarok Media Player Playing a Magnatune-Provided Preview

Another great thing about Magnatune that blows iTunes out of the water is its daily free song give-away, compared to iTunes weekly song give-away. Some people hear the word free and think something must be wrong or of poor quality, but people who use or develop open-source and free software know that's not the case. What makes Magnatune's daily DRM-free music give-away special is not only freedom, but also that the songs are great to listen to and have amazing sound quality. But, that's not all, Magnatune changes genres every day for the give-away. I plan to visit the site on a daily basis to download the free song and browse for other songs.

Figure 2. “We are not evil.”

Magnatune also has joined and supports the partly open-source Second Life, which has become an on-line phenomenon that allows you to live a second on-line virtual life, while making money on-line and joining groups and meeting new people. If you're a member of the Second Life world, Magnatune allows you to choose a genre to listen to while you're in the game or in Magnatune's furnished tents, giving you a relaxing area to hang out with other Magnatune users, making it a better community yet again. When you teleport to Magnatune's hang-out location, don't forget to get a free Magnatune T-shirt for your avatar. Best of all, Magnatune considers Second Life's playing of its streams to be promotional use of its music and grants you a license to use that music for free. Magnatune also says it will grant you a collecting society waiver, so that if ASCAP or BMI ever asks you to pay for the music you're using on Second Life, you can point them to

Open Music has become one of the largest projects that's made Magnatune so well known in the music industry and Open Source community. Open Music is music that is shareable, available in “source code” form, allows derivative works and is free of cost for noncommercial use. It is the concept of open-source computer software applied to music. Think of Open Music as open-source software, allowing you not only to edit and sell it, but also to share the wealth with the artist and Magnatune, or just give it back to the community so others can then edit what you edited to make it even better. And, it's all under the Creative Commons, including Magnatune's main site. One example of this Open Music Project is the new Amarok Live CD Project. Magnatune allowed the Amarok Project members and community to bundle tracks from the Magnatune store that were licensed under the attribution/noncommercial/share-alike version of the well-known Creative Commons license.



Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

I like the music there and its a reasonable price

Anonymous's picture

I found a few bands that I like at magnatune a while ago. One is called Electric Frankenstein, they are a punk/rock/speed-rock band I guess. CD's cost about $5.00 to make. Flac files cost less and sound just as good. I don't want to pay more than $5.00 for an album and this is a good solution for that. I just wish they sold music on vinyl. Digital media tends to last around 9 years as far as I know. That's the average shelf-life of a CD, and hard drives fail all of the time. It kind of sucks to have to back up your music collection every time you get a new song or album. I definitely support their work because they are independent and I like some of the music they release. If you are looking for something free as in freedom, and as in beer, you can also check out this list of sites to find out where you can find music that is free and Creative Commons Licensed with some rights reserved just like at Magnatune but free as in beer.

I support Magnatune, other independent music labels, and I'm boycotting the RIAA's products. Find out why you should too at and

Their definition of "Open

demiurg's picture

Their definition of "Open Music" is quite interesting, they invite you to "be a part of the Magnatune's marketing team by requesting free recruiting cards or printing Magnatune mini-posters and handing them out", i.e. work for them just because their web site runs on Linux!

Alexander (Sasha) Sirotkin
Metalink Broadband

My blogs:

Alexander (Sasha) Sirotkin
Metalink Broadband

My blogs:

"they invite you to "be a

Cristiano's picture

"they invite you to "be a part of the Magnatune's marketing team by requesting free recruiting cards or printing Magnatune mini-posters and handing them out"

You have informed so nice Alexander (Sasha) Sirotkin.


Response to your comment and your blog post on blogger

James L's picture

First I'd like to point out a few things about your blog post and the comment above. It's not that they are an open source project but that they contribute to open source projects and to the open source community, while helping to spread the idea of open source and open freedom. Magnatune has greatly helped and supported the Amarok project, they are even holding a contest allowing people to take samples from the Magnatune sample pool to create a theme to Amarok when it first loads. They have also helped by giving a bunch of songs to the Amarok Live CD Project to be put on the CD. Nikolaj who is working for Magnatune is developing Magnatunes integration into Amarok. If you look at it they do have a programmer who is contributing to open source. The thing is, it's not about the Amarok project but about how they should still get recognition because of the creativity of their business model, and the choice to use Linux and open source software within the company.

Last time I checked or what I feel as a crisis in the music industry would be called DRM. Magnatune is trying to find new ways to fix this crisis and they have found it within "Open Music" and DRM-Free music. Any company that promotes the freedom of choice and creativity is a freedom fighter. From what I remember in school and from purchasing things in my life, is that it's up to the consumers to say an album is lousy or not. So before you go saying the labels are lousy you should visit Magnatunes site and maybe listen to some of the artist that are in the genre of your liking; since you said you did not visit their site.

I'd also like to know how you warped the definition of "open Music" to Magnatunes promotional/Advertising campaign. One has to deal with music in the concept of open source software applied to music, while the other deals with allowing people to promote a site and label company they support, because they feel it's doing the correct thing unlike many label companies today.

I'd also encourage you to check out some of the other sites/projects created by John Buckman such as so you can see it's not just about business to him, but the spread of creativity and freedom. By the way I don't work for Magnatune or for Buckman but support the ideas he follows, and the promotion and use of Linux and open source software.

Nobodys for free, all others pay cash...

Ken Melton's picture

So, what you're saying in this advertisement... err... article, is that I can either listen to artists that no one has ever heard of for next to nothing and feel really great that I'm supporting a company that supports the open source movement; or I can use iTunes, accept that the artists that I have heard of have signed exclusive deals with evil labels that force us to pay through the nose to get songs that are only moderately free. This is the unfortunate reality of life; artists sign the deals that restrict their music. If you want to it be free, how about trying to convince your favorite artists to sign with an independent label. The only risk is that they may never get their work heard in the mainstream.